Archives for April 2016

Bible Study, Easter 7 (C) – May 8, 2016

 

[RCL] Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

Acts 16:16-34

The story may be a familiar one: Paul sets a slave girl free of the spirit that possesses her. He does so because of his own annoyance with her acting as a nonstop herald for him and Silas. This doesn’t sit well with the slave girl’s owners and even ends up landing Paul and Silas in jail. The earthquake comes and leaves them an avenue of escape, and indeed sets all of the prisoners free. What’s surprising, though, is that they don’t seem to leave. They’re still there when the jailer sees his own predicament, and are able to stop him from taking his own life in despair, and as a result of this, he and his entire household are baptized.

  • What might it mean that Paul and Silas and the other prisoners did not leave when a way out was provided?
  • Are there moments in your life when you’ve felt like the jailer?
  • When have you seen God at work and marveled?
  • When have you felt like your life had been saved?
Psalm 97

Psalm 97 exalts God as the one who brings justice to the world. God’s majesty is so great that the coastlines rejoice, God’s adversaries are consumed in fire, and even the mountains are so humbled that they are said to melt like wax. The earth trembles before God’s glory, yet Zion and Judah rejoice in God’s judgments. The righteous have nothing to fear, we’re told, their lives are protected and they are able to rejoice in God; for God loves those who hate evil. God’s majesty is described in terms terrifying and awe-inspiring, and this awe leads directly to praise and thanksgiving.

  • What are the ways in which God inspires awe in you?
  • What does it mean today to hate evil?
  • How do we discern God’s justice?
  • How might God’s justice differ from our own sense of justice? 
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

In this text from Revelation, the angel speaks to John the Divine the words of Jesus. This passage is full of rich imagery which we often make use of in our tradition, though sometimes without exploring fully. Jesus refers to himself as the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the root and descendant of David, the bright morning star. After hearing these descriptors of Jesus, all who are thirsty, all who desire the water of life are bid by the Spirit, the bride (an image often associated with the Church), and everyone who hears to come and drink. This, John is told, is a gift; this is the same way it’s described a chapter earlier when John is told that the one seated on the throne is making all things new. The passage ends with Christ’s promise that he will come again soon, and a fervent wish that it will be so.

  • What does thinking of Jesus as Alpha and Omega, as the root and descendant of David, or as the bright morning star tell us about Jesus?
  • How can these images enrich our understanding of who Jesus is and what he means?
  • What are the ways in which we thirst?
  • What are the ways in which the water of life can quench our thirst?
  • How can we wish for Jesus’ coming again without losing sight of the here and now?
John 17:20-26

In this famous prayer from John’s Gospel, Jesus prays that his followers, both the disciples and those who come to follow Jesus after them, may be one just as he and God are one. This unity is evidenced in the glory and in the love which God gave to Jesus, and which Jesus gave to his followers. This prayer takes place right before Jesus’ betrayal and arrest. He prays for unity at a time when even his inner circle is about to be divided, for glory as he is about to suffer condemnation and shame, and for love as he is about to be despised.

  • What must it have taken for Jesus to pray this prayer in light of what is to come?
  • What are the ways in which we as Jesus’ followers could be more unified?
  • How can we share the glory and love that Christ shares with us?

Download the Easter 7C Bible Study.

Written by Ian Lasch

Ian Lasch is a senior at Virginia Theological Seminary and a candidate for Holy Orders from the Diocese of Georgia. His wife Loren is an Episcopal priest and member of the VTS Class of 2008. Their joyful son, Elias, was born in December 2014. Ian previously worked as an Arabic translator, and has a deep love for Cleveland and Charlotte sports.

Bible Study, Easter 6 (C) – May 1, 2016

[RCL] Acts 16: 9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5; John 14:23-29

Acts 16: 9-15

Hospitality in the first century Roman Empire was risky. It was not simply inviting someone over for dinner or even offering them a place to stay for the night. Instead, it carried with it an offering of protection and provisions for the journey ahead. It signaled a commitment to enter into permanent relationship with another. A family would offer hospitality to people like them, social equals who could be trusted to reciprocate when needed.

So it is significant that throughout Acts, the apostles receive hospitality from people who are not like them, including Gentiles and businesswomen like Lydia. The power of the Holy Spirit explodes the dividing walls between strangers and knits them into a community of friends and co-workers for the spread of the Gospel. After Lydia and her household are baptized, she urges the apostles to stay with her and provides for Paul and Silas after they are released from prison (Acts 16:40).

  • Where have you seen the Holy Spirit create surprising community?
  • What are the dividing walls separating people from each other in your neighborhood?
  • Lydia and the apostles were open to God’s Word and their lives were radically changed. What practices help you stay open to the Word?
Psalm 67

Psalm 67 is a communal song of petition and praise, calling on God to bless Israel so that the whole world will know the Holy One’s justice, power, and guidance. We see this in the symmetrical structure of the psalm. Verses 1 and 7 begin with a petition for God’s blessing, while verses 2 and 6 concern the earth. Verses 3 and 5 are identical, and our attention is drawn to verse 4, the only three line verse in the psalm: “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide all the nations upon earth.” God’s blessing is not just for Israel, but for the whole earth. The petitions voiced in this song are universal rather than contextualized.

  • Given the world as you know it today, what might these blessings look like?
  • Where is God’s saving health needed?
  • Where is God’s justice and guidance needed?
  • Using Psalm 67 as a model, write your own song of petition and praise, being as specific as possible.
Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5

The book of the Revelation to John is addressed to “the seven churches that are in Asia” (Revelations 1:4) and was written in the second half of the first century C.E. The beginning chapters of the book describe the various challenges those churches are facing, from imprisonment and death to spiritual complacency. John exhorts these Christians to “be faithful until death” (2:10b) and to be persistent in seeking a transformed life (3:18-20). Life in the Roman Empire held out visions of many different objects of worship, including multiple gods and the emperor. In Revelation, John records larger visions, reminding the churches of God’s sovereignty.

This particular passage offers the promise of the new Jerusalem, where God’s glory is the only light needed and the nations will dwell together in safety and wholeness. When the lectionary leaves out many verses, I like to find out what is missing. In this case, the compilers omitted several verses describing the new Jerusalem’s opulent walls and gates. Take the time to read these verses. Imagine the vision John is describing— a glorious city more radiant than anything the Roman Empire could construct.

  • How does this city, the river, and the tree of life appear in your imagination?
  • Which aspect of John’s description offers you the most powerful sense of hope for your life, your community, or the world?
  • How might you live into that hope with faithful courage?
John 14:23-29

Jesus’s words to Judas (not Iscariot) are part of a larger conversation at the Last Supper. Jesus is preparing his disciples to live faithfully after he has gone from them physically. They are understandably disturbed by this talk, but Jesus repeats his words of peace and assurance. Jesus has brought them into an abiding love relationship with God that has implications for their lives whether they are in Jesus’s physical presence or not.

The Advocate, the paraclete, is the Holy Spirit, sent to abide with the disciples (14:17) and to remind them of Jesus’s words and teaching. He is not leaving the disciples orphaned (14:18), and yet we can imagine how upsetting this conversation would be.

  • Jesus’s promise of the Holy Spirit and his gift of peace are intertwined. How have you experienced the Holy Spirit’s abiding presence in your life?
  • Where do you sense a need for Christ’s peace today? Take a few moments to pray for peace now.

Download the Easter 6C Bible Study.

Written by Charlotte Wilson
Charlotte is a postulant for Holy Orders from the Diocese of California and a third year seminarian at Church Divinity School of the Pacific. As a spiritual director and minister, she delights in accompanying others as they encounter God in expected and unexpected places. Charlotte finds joy in reading, hiking, knitting, and hanging out with her family and friends.

Bible Study, Easter 5 (C) – April 24, 2016

[RCL] Acts 11:1-18; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35; Psalm 148

Acts 11:1-18

In this passage we here an account of the apostle crossing what were social and religious boundaries of the day. There were many social conventions regarding what sort of people could interact with others sorts of people. Jesus came to break down these barriers, and his apostles followed in these teachings. Peter challenges us in our scripture this week. Who are we to decide what is clean or unclean; good or bad; right or wrong. God makes all things clean. Through God we can know truth and have a just life. By stepping aside from what hinders, we can build a relationship with God that will lead us into life.

  • What has God made clean for you?
  • What in your life hinders the way God can act through you?
  • How can you learn to let go of these things that hinder you?
  • How can you let go of your conceptions of what is “clean”?
Psalm 148

Praise! God made all things that they might praise God’s goodness. All things belong to God and God is a mighty caretaker. God raises up strength in us that we have the courage to take on any challenge that we are faced with. Knowing that we are God’s beloved we can rest easy and find comfort through all times. And people are not the only beings who honor God through praise. In this psalm we hear of the multitude of creation, from sun to moon to tree to wind. If even the fire and fog offer praise unto God, then we are in great company.

  • What does praising God look like in your daily life?
  • How do you join the chorus of praise?
  • How has God raised up strength in you?
Revelation 21:1-6

In Revelation we are reminded that God makes all things new. In each completion we can find newness of life. It is through God that transformation happens. When we experience harm or hurt, if we take these things to God they can yield life. In this passage we hear that God is the Alpha and the Omega. God is with us in our beginning and in our ending. Each time we start down a new and unfamiliar path God is alongside us. Each time we come to an ending God is also there.

  • What needs to be made new for you? How might you bring this to God?
  • When have you experienced an ending in which you found a wonderful new beginning?
  • What is a story of resurrection in your life?
John 13:31-35

This passage defines Christian life for us in a largely straightforward way. “Love one another.” And even though this commandment is simple at first, we know through human experience that this can be challenging. Jesus calls us to love without exception. When we see so much difference and diversity in the world this sort of love can be difficult to grasp in its complexity. It takes a great deal of effort to truly love those who cause harm, spread hate, or simply follow different belief systems from our own. Jesus teaches us that others will know that we are disciples of Christ by the way we speak, act, and move through the world. If we spread a narrative of love and if our actions align, God will be glorified.

  • Where have you experienced the complexity of truly loving all people?
  • When have you been loved by another regardless of your differences?
  • How do you engage in a posture of loving kindness in your life?

Download the Easter 5C Bible Study.

Written by Samantha Haycock

Samantha Haycock is the Director of Children and Youth Ministry at Christ Episcopal Church in Alameda. Her passion in ministry is spreading Jesus’ call for social justice and in helping people to make connections between their daily and spiritual lives so that they can bring their whole and authentic selves to the world. Samantha is a banana slug, holding a BA in Psychology from UC Santa Cruz and has a Certificate in Youth and Family Ministry from Bexley Seabury and Forma Faith Formation Academy. She is a participant in the Collaborative for Church Vitality, serves on the Forma Advocacy Working Group, and assists The Episcopal Church DFMS with the youth, young adult, and Sermons that Work online presences. When she is not working Samantha enjoys concocting strange things in her kitchen and hiking all over the place.

Bible Study, Easter 4 (C) – April 17, 2016

[RCL] Acts 9:36-43; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30; Psalm 23

Psalm 23

There is an odd practice of referring to psalms like this one as evidence of the obstinacy or sinfulness of humanity. “Humans are like sheep,” goes the argument, “stubborn, unintelligent, and in constant need for a shepherd (God) to prevent them from hurting themselves.” Psalm 23, however, doesn’t naturally lend itself to such a disparaging view of humankind. Instead, the metaphor of sheep and shepherd is meant to evoke the kind of contentment among its hearers that enables them to confess with the Psalmist, “I shall not want”; the providence of God for his flock puts them at ease, they are not lacking anything. The imagery shifts from God as shepherd to God as host, one who “prepares a table” and provides more than enough to drink. This God’s care for his people engenders the author’s hopes for the future, and encourages his commitment to continually worship in the Temple “all the days.”

  • Would you be able to characterize your relationship with God in these terms?
  • How does God’s providence empower you to live today, if you were to really begin to believe it?
Acts 9:36-43 

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone when I say that we are living in an age that has thoroughly rejected miracle stories (unless, for some reason, they involve a child, a near-death experience, and a heavenly vision!). Perhaps in encountering Peter’s miracle as moderns, our belief might be aided by zooming out a bit and to see part of what the act might mean, instead of merely trying to grit our teeth and believe it’s resurrection claim (though this may be where some of us have to start). In Tabitha’s very real resurrection we see the revolutionary restructuring of the social order that the Church is called to perform and embody in the world. Tabitha has given her life to supporting a group of widows, those on the bottom rung of the strata. She dies, and the world carries on as it normally does. But that is not how things go in the kingdom of God. God cares for the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He exalts the lowly and meek. Like the prophets of old, Peter demonstrates that care for the “least of these” is among God’s chief concerns. Pope Francis recently hit the nail on the head, “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

  • In what ways has your parish been called to show forth God’s power and care for the marginalized around you?
  • In what ways have you personally been called to show forth God’s power and care for the marginalized around you?
Revelation 7:9-17

Like Psalm 23, this apocalyptic picture features God in the role of shepherd, where God “shelters” God’s people, eternally assuaging their hunger and thirst, protecting them from the scorching heat of the sun, wiping away every tear from their eyes, and leading them to the springs of the waters of life.

Unlike Psalm 23, those whom God shepherds have “come out of the great affliction,” they have endured the sufferings common to those living under the reign of the beast in John’s vision. Christians reading this weeks lectionary texts together (Ps. 23, Rev. 7:9-17) are reminded that God’s provision for them (and God’s ultimate defeat of their oppressors) does not necessarily exempt them from suffering in this life. Most of us will not face the kind of societal ostracization or violence as John’s audience on account of our faith in Christ, but whatever our circumstances, it should come as a great comfort to us that God’s restoration of all things has already begun.

  • Since our lives will not always be as comfortable as Psalm 23 or as tumultuous as Revelation 7, how do we go about trusting in God’s provision for us in the in-between?
  • If you have faced one or both of these extremes, how was the Lord present to you in those seasons of life?
John 10:22-30

Like Psalm 23 and Revelation 7, John once again shows us a picture of the Divine Shepherd, but this time, that picture includes Jesus, who is one with the Father, from whom he received his “sheep.” Jesus’ opponents on Solomon’s Porch do not belong to his flock (they don’t believe in him), and thus cannot understand his words or deeds. Jesus’ flock hear his voice, know him, follow him, receive eternal life from him, will never perish, and cannot be snatched out of his hand. “Wolves” may come, but the Good Shepherd protects them; God fights off their enemies. This is not to say that Christians are immune from apostasy (leaving the flock of their own accord), but it does emphasize God’s protection for God’s sheep, be they persecuted for their faith in the first century, or “swayed by every wind of doctrine” in the twenty-first.

  • Where in your life do you struggle to believe that God protects you in these ways?
  • If you have ever been tempted to “leave the flock,” how did you overcome that temptation?

Download the Easter 4C.

Written by Ryan Pollock

Ryan is a postulant for Holy Orders from the Diocese of Dallas, TX and a middler seminarian at Nashotah House, where he is a choral scholar and a refectorian. When not engaged in seminary business, these days he can be found alchemizing in the kitchen or attempting to play heavy metal guitar in the basement. He is married to Jessica, an artist and photographer who is studying astronomy at the University of Wisconsin.